Work in progress: Printing the Antanas Sutkus show

It was a great honor for me when I was asked by Eric Schlosser, the creative director of the ArtVilnius Art Fair, to print large-scale photo murals for the renowed photographer Antanas Sutkus – a living legend, the “Homer of Lithuania” as they call him. I went to Vilnius in person to pick up the negatives and to meet him and his wife, Rima Sutkiene, who, apart from being the director of Antanas Sutkus Photography Archives and a professional book designer for decades, is also a great artist in her own right. You can see some of her jewelry creations here.

We sat down in the archive room in their elegant house, where shelves covered the walls and reached the ceiling, all filled with drawers hiding an impressive amount of negatives and prints that Mr Sutkus had produced over the previous half a century. We went through the possible frames for the exhibition one by one, discussing technical and visual details. He also showed me a few smaller prints, pointing out what he liked and what he didn’t like in those, so I could have a better idea how I should work on the prints to get the desired results. I then carefully packed up the negatives and, holding them in my arms the whole time, flew back to Berlin to get to work.


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

The negatives were in these old envelops with little notes and markings on them. First I made work-prints of each of them, so together with Mr Sutkus and Mr Schlosser, we would be able to figure out the final selection (sadly a few wonderful frames were too damaged to print in this big size).


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

Because I was printing the photos projected on the wall of the darkroom, I could not use an easel, and as we wanted to have white frame around the pictures, I masked each negative according to the guidelines of the photographer.


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

Testing for contrast and exposure time.


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

Some of the prints were over a meter long, so I had to roll them in big trays filled with the printing chemicals, wearing robber gloves and gas mask.


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

Archival treatment and washing, also one by one.


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

During the printing process, even with detailed testing, sometimes I had to print a photo a few times over to get the desired result (the hardest part was destroying those prints that looked nice but did not reach the quality I was aiming for).


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

Once they were all washed, I dried them by taping them on a big sheet of glass to get them perfectly flat.


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

Then came the retouching process, which was a big part of the job, as some of the negatives were quite worn, but listening to some calm music and putting the tiny dots one after the other on the prints turned out to be quite meditative.


work in progress – printing the ©Antanas Sutkus show

And then the prints were ready to be cut. Once the prints were ready, and I had them all up on my studio’s wall, I was offered the luxury of seeing a beautiful Antanas Sutkus show in private.

And the best compliment I could get as a printer was when Mr Sutkus, after seeing the prints, said that he was very happy with the overall results, but some of the prints turned out so perfectly that he felt he was seeing those frames the first time. That is a great compliment from somebody who has over 50 years’ working experience.

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